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After Malala's Speech, Pakistan's Long Road to Fix Education

Speaking on a 16th birthday that she nearly didn't live to see, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education rights advocate targeted by the Taliban, called on an assembly at the United Nations on Friday to invest in educational opportunities for children around the globe and particularly for girls in the developing world.

She described her ordeal matter-of-factly, saying, "On the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed."

And she pushed back against her assailants' worldview. The Taliban thinks "that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school," she observed. "The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits. Pakistan is peace-loving democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. And Islam is a religion of peace, humanity, and brotherhood. Islam says that it is not only each child's right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility."

But while the Taliban may have failed in its efforts to silence critics like Malala, Pakistan has made little headway in increasing access to education and halting violence against children in recent years. The most recent U.N. data, tracked by the Guardian, show that gender parity at all levels of education in Pakistan has plateaued, with 82 girls to every 100 boys in primary school and 73 girls to every 100 boys in secondary school -- and this does not include the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), where the Taliban has exerted the most influence.

Despite the dearth of official statistics from the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a recent report by Save the Children cites Pakistani intelligence reports indicating that "since 2008, 995 schools and 35 colleges have been destroyed in the FATA and KP province." Students, especially girls, have also been targeted in acid attacks, and just in June, a bomb attack targeted a school bus.

According to the Pakistani newspaper the Nation, Pakistan does not keep a national database on violence against children. But a report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, released in May, identified 5,659 cases, including 943 murders, 1,170 injuries, and 547 incidences of torture.

"So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism, and let us pick up our books and pens," Malala concluded today. "They are our most powerful weapons." She has an uphill battle to fight.

FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images

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Americans' Long Noses and Marrying Jack Lew: Deciphering the Jokes of China's Vice Premier

On Tuesday, I compared the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual meeting between high-ranking U.S. and Chinese officials, to cardigan sweaters and actuarial tables -- to make the point that typically nothing interesting gets said publicly at these summits. This year, however, as my colleague Daniel Drezner points out, China agreed to significant trade concessions.

But perhaps more surprisingly, the Chinese representative on the economic side of the talks, Vice Premier Wang Yang, cracked a few jokes. He compared his new relationship with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to a marriage, adding, "Although U.S. law permits same-sex marriage, this is not what Jacob Lew and I want." (After this joke, and one about the divorce between Rupert Murdoch and his Chinese wife, Wendi Deng, "Lew briefly smiled down at his notes … but many members of the Chinese delegation squirmed," according to Reuters.)

Reminiscing about what has changed in the United States since his last visit a decade ago, Wang added that "Americans are still taller than the Chinese and still have a stronger body and longer noses than the Chinese. [So] nothing much has changed" (here are the comments in Chinese). Wang appears to be referencing the common Chinese expression "big nose," which is a catchall term for Western foreigners. In March 2012, for example, Wang said that Guangdong province, where he was then Communist Party secretary, developed because of the assistance from Chinese living overseas, "as big noses don't understand China."

Wang's remarks this week appear to have been too benign and too general -- he referred to Americans as a whole, as opposed to any particular segment of the American population thought to have big noses -- to have caused a stir in the United States. But what matters for Wang is how his remarks played domestically. If Lew had told an audience of Chinese that "they are as small and as flat-nosed" as he remembered, he might be looking for a new job. In China, where political correctness rarely extends to race -- for Jews, blacks, and Chinese minorities, among others -- Wang's joke probably won't be considered offensive.

One does wonder, though, whether Chinese leaders will censure Wang for distracting attention from the Strategic and Economic Dialogue itself. His wisecracks certainly seem to have received as much attention as his policies. Whereas the website of China Radio International, a Chinese state radio company, headlined an article on the meeting "Good Sino-U.S. Co-op Promotes World Peace and Prosperity: Wang Yang," the Atlantic-owned business website Quartz titled its coverage "Wang Yang kicks off US-China dialogue with no-homo diplomacy." 

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